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No New Abnormal

Tag: joe mcginty

The Psychedelic Furs’ New Album: As Dark and Witheringly Relevant As Ever

The Psychedelic Furs have a new album. It’s really good!

Let’s be clear, this isn’t the same band who channeled horrorstricken, Joy Division-class angst with their densely atmospheric 1989 classic Book of Days – or whose guitar/organ/alto sax-fueled post-Velvets stomp had established them as one of that decade’s most important bands several years earlier. The sound of this record is closer to the former than the latter, with an even techier, postrock feel in places. Among core members from the group’s classic period, only frontman Richard Butler and keyboardist Joe McGinty remain. Butler, however, is in strong voice, and writing with the same withering punk sarcasm and bleak imagery that informed his best work. And the replacements – Richard Fortus, Jon Carin and someone who goes only by “BT” (could that be another founding member, Butler’s bassist brother Tim?) – share a commitment to the murk.

The album is titled Made of Rain; it’s streaming at Spotify. The first track, The Boy Who Invented Rock & Roll seems to be an Elvis parable, awash in vastly pulsing atmospherics and all kinds of guitar effects, Butler’s baritone a savage rasp overhead:

The druggy days the pointless pain
My glitter hips this bloodless ass
The endless days the starless dark
A bag of tears where love is gone
Her darling pays, a siren song…
The breathless air, the frozen tide
The greenless spring, the timeless night
The suicidal drunken dance
The sense that things will fall apart

In the wordless, echoey outro, the distantly reverberating flutter of a sax, and the snap and crackle of the bass rise up through the swirl.

You’ll Be Mine follows the same architecture: long, trancey verse and a big turnaround on the chorus. Butler works variations on a sarcastic “don’t be surprised” theme – this isn’t about seduction. He pushes his voice beyond where he really ought to (then again, he always did that) in the more upbeat, catchy, distinctly new wave-flavored Wrong Train. This song’s a typically imagistic narrative about a missed connection, in both senses of the word. Drugs and their dark side are a recurrent theme here.

This’ll Never Be Like Love has a slower, dreamlike sway: throughout the album, the soprano sax is a tasty, tasteful textural contrast. The band return to rainy-day washes of sound with the somber, wee-hours resignation of Ash Wednesday. Then they pick up the pace with the junkie cynicism of Don’t Believe, layers of icy chorus-box guitars filtering through the mix.

Come All Ye Faithful, a venomous minor-key kiss-off anthem, has as much of a funky bounce as this band could ever manage. No-One is a sequel, just as vicious and even catchier, set in a place where everyone’s “Dressed up in Halloween, where nobody ever screams.”

McGinty’s baroque electric piano ripples anxiously in Tiny Hands, a grimly knowing account of family dysfunction. Butler keeps that theme front and center over an acoustic-electric sway in Hide the Medicine. The band close the album with Turn Your Back on Me and its dreampop Dark Side of the Moon sonics, and then Stars, a wistfully twinkling, distantly Lynchian anthem.

Where does this fit in the Furs’ hall-of-fame lineup of albums? Somewhere in the middle. File this between the musically rich but lyrically deficient 1991 album World Outside and the 1982 classic Forever Now.

Artfully Orchestrated, Gorgeously Angst-Fueled Tunesmithing From Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding

Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding play an achingly lush, angst-ridden brand of chamber pop that looks back to 50s lounge music but isn’t cheesy. Brian Carpenter‘s most noirish adventures, Ward White‘s work with Joe McGinty, and Jon DeRosa at his most orchestral are good points of comparison. Dawson’s latest album Last Flight Out is streaming at Bandcamp.

The album opens with the slow, undulating title track, awash in strings far more stark than syrupy. Dawson sings in an uneasy, somewhat gritty tenor. Jason Adasiewicz’s rippling vibraphone enters over the lithe acoustic rhythm section of drummer Charles Rumback and bassist Jason Roebke ; the song could be about escaping an invasion, or a metaphor for a doomed relationship.

Despite the persistent extinction metaphors, there’s hope in Mastodon, a brokenhearted waltz, Rumback’s cymbal washes mingling with creepily fluttering strings and the echo of the vibes. Built around a simple, catchy string riff, However Long It Take has a steady clave beat and rousingly optimistic gospel harmonies.

The Monkey’s Mind Is on the Prowl has a cocooning, lullaby-esque atmosphere that hits a peak with a balletesque coda from the strings and then a long, hypnotic outro. The album’s starkest and best song is While We Were Staring Into Our Palms, a cautionary tale about eternal vigilance being the price of liberty:

It might have all gone differently
The chemistry failed
That tree just had to come down
Blind rage prevails
Oh say can you see?

It’s Not What You Think has a flinty, Sam Reider-esque folksiness, a wise admonition not to take things on face value. What a refreshingly original, smart, tastefully crafted album.

Ward White’s As Consolation: Best Rock Record of 2017

Ward White’s album Bob topped the list of best releases of 2013 here. So it’s hardly a surprise that his latest album As Consolation is by far the best rock record released this year. Most artists who play loud, troubling, psychedelic music usually get quieter and more pensive as the years go by. but since the early zeros, White has gone in the opposite direction.

The new album – streaming at Bandcamp –  isn’t quite as surreal as Bob, but Bob is unlike any other record ever made, a disjointed whirlwind murder mystery psychedelic lit-rock suite. Its closest comparisons are not albums but Russell Banks novels and David Cronenberg films. As Consolation, on the other hand, does not seem to have a central storyline  – other than a relentlessly grim cynicism that crosses the line into sadism and the macabre. White’s worldview has never been more bleak – yet there’s never been this much unselfconscious joie de vivre in his music.

He’s a one-man guitar army here with his lavish but tersely arranged multitracks – for what it’s worth, he’s also an excellent bass player (that was his axe in the legendary Rawles Balls). This time around he’s fallen in love with a vintage analog delay pedal, for an eerie, watery effect akin to running his axe through a Leslie speaker. Now based in Los Angeles after a long stint in New York, he’s joined by Tyler Chester, who plays a museum’s worth of vintage keyboards (or clever digital facsimiles) – he turns out to be a sort of a left coast Joe McGinty, a longtime White collaborator who put out a fantastic album with him in 2009. Mark Stepro, who played on White’s withering 2008 album Pulling Out, returns to the drum chair.

Overarching narrative or not, there are characters who make multiple appearances in these allusively grisly, meticulously detailed narratives. One is the titular girl in Here’s What Happened to Heidi, the opening track. As with Bob, the events are anything but clear. Is this being told from the point of view of a corpse? A murder victim? “”Please tell me it’s not morning yet,” someone pleads again and again.

It’s rewarding to see White getting back in touch with the psychedelia and heavy rock he grew up with as a kid in Connecticut: there are more textures and more stylistic leaps than ever before in what has become a back catalog that ranks with guys like Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello.

The murderously catchy, organ-infused Crater is one of the most straightforwardly sinister cuts here – an incriminating envelope is involved. “Under the stone, don’t fight it, you’ll be at home,” White intones nonchalantly as the band gallops behind him.

A mashup of psychedelic soul and Abbey Road Beatles, Dude is White at his sardonic best:

Girls in California call me dude.
It’s non-negotiable
As smirks and disapproval misconstrued

“A few dreams, that much you’re owed,” White muses to the girl passed out on the sofa as Rhodes piano echoes uneasily in the miniature that serves as the album’s title track. Then he picks up the pace immediately with Spurs, its treacherous western vacation plotline shifting suddenly and strangely between a hard-hitting, syncopated pulse and lushly ethereal cinematics. “The paralyzing fear that we’re alone makes us cling to the humdrum,” White asserts: the rhyme that follows is too good to give away. It’s definitely a first in rock history.

Stepro flurries like Keith Moon throughout Hotel, a mashup of mod and new wave.

The fumes are playing havoc with your senses
You never listened before
Why would you listen now?

We never find out what Heidi, making a reappearance here, has to say to her assailant; White’s tongue-in-cheek, bluesy guitar solo adds a blackly amusing tinge.

White goes to the top of his formidable vocal range in Dog Tags, the narrator telling someone who was “naked on the fire escape: – his killer, maybe? – not to bother to look for the body, over an artfullly lingering remake of Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1. Then the music picks up with a blast of Beatles and Bowie in Parking Lot: “Frozen onfire in the parking lot, better hold your breath til I count to ten again,” White instructs.

With its tense, broken guitar chords and smoky organ, Stay Low is the most distinctly Lynchian song here: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Charming Disaster catalog. The raging guitars of Coffee Maker echo the sonics on his 2014 release Ward White Is the Matador, a pair of accomplices growing more desperate by the hour. The way White caps off his guitar solo is as cruel as it is priceless.

The psychedelic Twin Peaks narrative Which Pain takes place in a torture chamber: “Too late to turn back now, not too big to fail,” a vindictive narrator tells his victim. More echoes of early-70s Bowie return in The Crows, another chilling tale from beyond the grave. “Sadness will make you insane, leave your cake out in the rain,” White reminds: that’s among the most telling of the many wry and far more subtle lyrical references here. The album closes with Weekend Porsche, a surreal soundscape that slowly coalesces into a reprise of that glam theme. It’s the first instrumental White’s ever recorded and the Eclipse to this Dark Side of the Moon.

Amanda Thorpe Goes Deep Into the Noir in Yip Harburg’s Torch Songs

Nobody sings a moody grey-sky melody with as much moving, wounded poignancy as Amanda Thorpe. Although she’s best known as a purveyor of uneasy, rustic Britfolk-influenced rock and chamber pop – she’s the closest thing to Linda Thompson this generation has produced – Thorpe has also been singing jazz since the 90s. And she’s just as hauntingly adept at it, shifting meticulously and sometimes wrenchingly from one emotion to another in a pensive alto. She’ll caress the lyrics on a verse and then hit a wailing, anguished peak on a chorus. But where she works her magic best is in between those extremes.

Thorpe’s new album Bewitching Me: The Lyrics of Yip Harburg was springboarded by a chance introduction to Ben Harburg, grandson of the ubiquitous swing era lyricist. Thorpe reinvents a bunch of old chestnuts as well as several  rarities from throughout Harburg’s career, backed by a tight band recorded mostly live in the studio. Sexmob‘s Tony Scherr plays tersely eclectic guitar, ranging from wee-hours, tremolo-tuned saloon jazz to vintage soul to the downtown grit he’s best known for. Rob Jost plays bass with an edgily incisive, woody tone; Robert di Pietro on drums with his typical, minutely focused nuance; plus Matt Trowbridge on keyboards, Serena Jost on cello and Ray Sapirstein on trumpet. Joe McGinty guests memorably on organ on a shatteringly wounded, nocturnal, oldschool soul-infused take of I’m Yours. Scherr switches to bass on a wryly jaunty, Anita O’Day-style take of Buds Won’t Bud alongside guests Michael Fagan on guitar and Nancy Polstein (Thorpe’s bandmate in the late, great Wirebirds) on drums. And Ben Harburg duets with Thorpe on a droll, tonguetwisting bonus track, I Like the Likes of You, over a bouncy pop backdrop.

Her stab at turning Over the Rainbow into a janglerock anthem, Scherr channeling Bill Frisell, is about as good as anything anyone’s been able to do with it. But her take of the other standard Harburg’s best known for, Brother Can You Spare a Dime, is a quiet knockout, rising out of a creepy, ambient intro with a thinly restrained anger, bringing it into the post-Bush era with a muted vengeance and vivid sense of abandonment. With its haunting, subdued anguish, Thorpe’s noir tropicalia version of Willow in the Wind is even better, fueled by di Pietro’s ominous tom-toms and misterioso cymbal work. Thorpe and the band work their way into It’s Only a Paper Moon as subdued Lynchian noir, then wind it up with an unexpected snarl fueled by Scherr’s bristling chords. And her misty, lushly waltzing, Adrift on a Star raises the doomed deep-sky intensity to a hushed peak.

Jost’s stark cello mingles with Scherr’s sparkly guitar as Paris Is a Lonely Town unwinds into Beatlesque psychedelia. Likewise, the jazziest tune here, April in Paris gives Thorpe plenty of room to remind how much a notoriously romantic city can amplify absence and regret. Old Devil Moon gets a lingering Nashville gothic treatment that grows more sultry the deeper Thorpe goes into the song: the old devil’s definitely up to no good here. Thorpe reinvents I’m Yours as slow swaying, jangly, organ-fueled oldschool soul and follows it with the album’s most sensual number, Last Night When We Were Young, Thorpe airing out her upper register with a lushly breathy, spine-tingling presence.

There are also a couple of considerably more lighthearted songs here. Thorpe has devilishly deadpan fun with all the tricky rhymes and innuendo in When I’m Not Near the Man I Love over the band’s tiptoeing red-neon ambience. And she gives Then I’ll Be Tired of You a swinging vintage soul-infused interpretation. The album’s liner notes compare the chemistry between Thorpe and Scherr to Julie London with Barney Kessel, or Mary Ford with Les Paul, and while this rocks harder than either of those duos ever did, the comparison holds true. As noir music and torch songs go, it doesn’t get any better than this. It this album the best of 2014 so far? It’s one of them.

Trippy Noir Pop and Instrumental Tracks from Maston

Some might hear Maston’s new album Shadows and conflate it with 60s stoner pop kitsch like the Beach Boys or Van Dyke Parks. But one-man band Frank Maston actually comes across as more of a cross between Lynch film composer Angelo Badalamenti and vintage keyboard maven Joe McGinty. Maston sings and plays all the instruments here except for Ana Caravelle’s concert harp. Simple, cheery hooks turn apprehensive in a split second, the guitars echoing wet and surfy over a deftly orchestrated series of keyboard patches ranging from vintage 60s organ to the latest lo-fi imitation Casio tones that are all the rage with the Bushwick New Order wannabes. The whole thing is streaming at Maston’s Bandcamp page.

The opening cut, Strange Rituals takes Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me and does it as  Joe Meek might have envisioned it, with reverb guitar and organ and echoey faux Spector kettledrums, rather than high camp. You Were In Love has Hawaiian-flavored slide guitar keening in the distance over an electric harpsichord theme, a more carnivalesque take on Penny Lane moptop pop. Messages, a coolly ominous LA psych-folk tune,  reminds of the Peanut Butter Conspiracy at their trippiest.

Looks, an allusively tropicalia-tinged psych pop tune, recalls Os Mutantes. Young Hearts kicks off with a tiptoeing hook that wouldn’t be out of place in a Frankie Valli song but gets wary and weird in a hurry. The echoey, opaque Judge Alabaster takes awhile to get going before it hits a scampering new wave groove and suddenly it’s over. King Conrad, a trippy guitar-and-harpsichord waltz, would make an elegant interlude on an album by current-day psych stars Jacco Gardner or the Blackfeeet Braves (who both also have excellent new albums out).

The album’s final cuts include Flutter, a twinkling, goodnatured dub-inflected nocturne; Mirror, an unconvincing stab at late 80s Britpop; and Night, a brief ELO-tinged lullaby.

A Chilling, Cinematic Classic from Ward White

Ward White’s new album, Bob, is a suspense film waiting to happen. White has made a career out of slashingly literary janglerock and chamber pop for over a decade: to call this surreallistically menacing concept album his best yet would be a disservice to brilliant earlier releases like 2007’s Maybe but Probably Not and his 2009 collaboration with keyboard maven Joe McGinty, McGinty and White Sing Selections from the McGinty and White Songbook. This new one is his most literary yet, a nonlinear narrative that may be about drug trafficking, white-collar crime, several murders and the apocalypse, a combination of all or some of the above. It is an engrossing story that is impossible to turn away from, best appreciated not as individual songs but as an integral suite.

Musically, it’s White at the top of his game as a satirist. While many of the songs are attractive, Bacharach-esque bossa-pop spiced with Jeff Hermanson’s tasteful trumpet, others veer closer to parody, toying with vaguely bluesy 70s radio pop and 80s power balladry. White’s a great guitarist and adds a handful of long-winded solos that hint at raw cheese everywhere. Yet he teases the listener, only crossing that line when it’s time to go straight for bigtime laughs, as in a ridiculously funny, cruel vocoder interlude midway through that’s straight out of Midnight Starr circa 1983.

Likewise, White’s storyline is a nonstop barrage of calamities including but not limited to a plane crash, a disastrous pandemic, possible starvation, cannibalism, a dirty deal gone drastically awry and a potential murder-suicide, its doomed arc interrupted by what seem to be flashbacks. There are at least two voices here, possibly more, possibly different sides of a single personality. There’s a bossy corporate type whose clueless sense of entitlement White absolutely nails – one moment he’s telling somebody to stay the hell away from his woodpile, the next he’s cajoling that same person to put down the gun. There’s also a guy whose druggie wife is divorcing him but seems to be planning a far quicker and more conclusive final break. The Bob in the title is addressed several times – he may be the only survivor here – and is referenced throughout, bitterly, but never speaks for himself. The author whose work this most closely evokes is Russell Banks.

White gets the story rolling with a bang: “I’ve suffered too much to give in to gravity, I hit the ground; I saw my chance to escape so I did… Bob, you’re an expert, survive on my blood as long as you can and I’ll see you in hell,” instructs the bossy type over sarcastically attractive. anthemic 6/8 rock, White reaching falsetto altitude, part Jeff Buckley, part Broadwayesque sneer. Even as the end seems to be closing in, this is as close to human as the character gets. White ups the Broadway factor with some impressively nimble vocal acrobatics on the first of what seem to be the flashbacks, the trumpet in tandem with McGinty’s keys wry and deadpan behind the marriage-gone-to-hell tableau.

Not all the music here is satirical. While none of the songs follow a standard verse/chorus format, often shifting from gentle pop to hard-edged rock to ornate chamber pop like jump cuts, White occasionally drops the veil and goes straight for menace. That’s how the third track begins, as does the final interlude, its desperate protagonist encouraging an unnamed conspirator to join him at his little hideout cabin: they can just disappear and leave a note on the front door for Bob, he suggests.

White’s laserlike sense for the mot juste is in full effect, as usual: “You won’t feel the impact, so savor the fall,” the wronged husband tells his soon-to-be-ex. “Fences make good neighbors, and there’s no fence that I can’t crawl through,” the character guarding his precious woodpile tells the man with the gun. The tension is relentless, “Waiting in the cupboard, waiting by the bedside, waiting on the street where I walk, waiting in the headlines, waiting in the subtext, waiting in the things that I can’t talk about,” wails the bossy type.

As the story reaches fever pitch, memories of Hollywood shenanigans sit side by side with the conspirators holed up and running low on pretty much everything. There is at least one death, possibly a murder, possibly more. As the narrative peaks, hallucinations set in and eventually oscillate out sarcastically, possibly an allusions to the plane crash – or whatever it may be, metaphorical or not – that opens the album. Years from now, assuming that pause and rewind still exist, listeners will be pausing and rewinding this over and over to figure out who dies, who survives here and what the hell White is talking about the rest of the time. In the meantime, you have the opportunity to do the same with a genuine one-of-a-kind classic. Look for an album release show sometime later in the winter or early spring.

Lianne Smith’s Two Sides of a River – A Classic

Lianne Smith is an individualist. She does things her way – even if it means taking ten years or more to put out an album. Long considered to be one of New York’s most important songwriters, she personifies the definition of cult artist. She’ll play the occasional Bowery Ballroom gig and owns a rabid fan base who’ve followed her since her days as the Brooklyn dark Americana rock girl “most likely to get signed” in the late 90s. But that coincided with the sea change where the big record labels started to drop off the map – and the fact that Smith never courted fame in the first place. Since then, she’s teased her fan base with home recordings on the web; one suspects that there are many prized live shows of hers kicking around as well. That it would take her this long to make her debut album, Two Sides of a River, turns out to be worth it: it’s the best rock record of 2012 so far by a country mile.

Check her Bandcamp site – where the whole thing is streaming – and among the tags is “folk noir,” an apt way to describe her more low-key stuff. And while most artists find themselves at a loss for words to describe what they do, Smith pretty much nails what she’s about: “I write songs about standing in the middle of the road and wondering which way to go, about how others cheat us and how we cheat ourselves, about free-wheeling, bicycle riding, look-ma-no-hands exhilarations, and how it feels to say goodbye to summer.” The album is a mix of the expected – allusive, enigmatic, captivating folk-rock and some psychedelia – along with several lush, towering art-rock anthems, a style that turns out to suit her better than anyone would have thought. Good songwriters never have to look far for good musicians to play their songs, and Smith is no exception: the band here includes Paul Simon sideman Larry Saltzman and Tony Scherr on guitars and bass, Flutterbox’s Neill C. Furio also on bass, Anton Fier (who also produced) on drums, Doug Wieselman on saxophones, and Joe McGinty on keys on a couple of tracks, with lush, sometimes stormy string arrangements by Irwin Fisch.

Smith also happens to be one of this era’s great singers, somebody who deserves to be mentioned alongside people like Laura Cantrell and Neko Case (and Mary Lee Kortes, with whom she’s collaborated). Surprisingly, she doesn’t show off her upper register here, instead lingering on the lyrics with a nuanced phrasing that’s sometimes wry, sometimes sultry and often viscerally chilling. The first track here is The Magpie Hunter, a bitter, subdued, symbolically-loaded dark folk lament with an anthemic “one for the this, two for the that” chorus. That one sets the stage for the other quiet tracks, like the concluding cut, Snow, a pensive waltz told from the point of view of a girl lost in a storm (Smith hails from Minnesota originally – she knows her subject matter well). And as much detail as there is in Smith’s songs, what isn’t said carries just as much weight, epitomized in The Ballad of Sad Endings. That one has prosaic origins, simply a capsulization of the plotlines from a couple of books Smith was reading in the early zeros, which she turned into a Great Plains gothic epic. When she pulls up the phrase “madness descends,” the effect is as poignant as it is lurid – the strings adding a grand guignol horror as the song reaches a peak.

The real stunner here is Hit and Run. In the past, Smith has done it as retro 80s (think Wire or Joy Division): here it’s a massive art-rock anthem, a gruesome eyewitness account (and account of eyewitnesses) of a deadly crash. Over the layers of guitar and the soaring bassline, Smith coldbloodedly addresses the driver who left a victim twisted by the side of the road and might have made that move too soon.

But not everything here is quite that dark. The mysterious dreampop rock anthem Marianne Was Tired reminds of the Church, with a big, soaring guitar solo from Scherr and just a hint of an ominous ending, while The Thief, a backbeat country song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Cantrell playbook, winds up its aphoristic cautionary tale with an irresistible singalong “I found out, yeah, I found out too late” chorus. The seductive, psychedelic Sugar and the blithely charming Bicycle have been concert favorites for years. There’s also the joyously expectant powerpop anthem Saturday (8 Million Reasons), lit up by C.J. Camerieri’s ecstatic trumpet, and the tensely artsy, ambiguous pop song Old Times Sake. One of the most stylistically diverse rock albums of recent years, it’s also one of the best – and tops the list this year so far.

The Best NYC Concerts of 2011

Of all the year-end lists here at New York Music Daily, this one is the most fun to put together since it’s the most unique. Everybody has a different one: this is an attempt to be REALLY different and stay as faraway as possible from duplicating the other blogs. That’s why Sharon Jones, or the Brooklyn What, or Gogol Bordello aren’t on this list. Everybody else went to those shows – and had a good time, and more power to you if you were one of those people.

Considering how many incredible live performers play around town, and pass through over the span of a year, choosing the year’s best New York concert is usually like shooting fish in a barrel. But in 2011, there was one show that stood out over all the others, and that was one by a familiar presence, someone who’s been a force in the downtown scene for a long time, who gets more and more vital as the years go by. Laurie Anderson’s concert at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on August 11 brought an air-conditioned highrise chill, a calmly matter-of-fact indictment of post-9/11 paranoia and gentrifier cluelessness, laced with deadpan wit and set to hypnotic, pensive, icily ambient atmospherics. Though much of the concert was a requiem for an edgy New York that’s been bulldozed out of existence, it offered some hope that new version can rise again from the ashes of the old one.

In any other year, Marc Ribot’s April 3 performance of classic noir film music along with his own equally dark matter at the New School would be a no-brainer for best concert of the year; the same could be said for Either/Orchestra’s November 9 marathon two and a half-hour concert there featuring bandleader Russ Gershon’s new suite of moody Ethopian jazz as well as new arrangements of rare Ethiopiques, never before performed outside Ethiopia and probably not since the 1960s.

As far as the rest of the year is concerned, that it was impossible to whittle this list down to any fewer than 26 shows speaks for itself:

Sanda Weigl, Razia and Very Be Careful at the 92YTribeca, January 8 – Shoko Nagai was the star of this one, playing creepy, surreal, crashingly and virtuosically intense piano and accordion in the gypsy singer’s band. The Malagasy chanteuse and LA cumbia party band who followed weren’t bad either.

The Dixie Bee-Liners at the Jalopy, February 13 – since relocating from New York to the hills of Virginia, Buddy Woodward and Brandi Hart’s cutting-edge bluegrass band have made a living on the road with their Bible Belt noir. Pretty impressive in these hard times.

Miramar at Barbes, March 5 – new and classic Puerto Rican boleros, haunting and psychedelic, fueled by Marlysse Simmons’ creepy funeral organ.

Svetlana Berezhnaya at St. Thomas Church (5th Ave.), March 27 – the Russian organist played her own even more macabre arrangement of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Caithlin De Marrais, the Oxygen Ponies and Randi Russo at the Mercury, April 17 – the former Rainer Maria chanteuse/bassist followed by two of New York’s darkest, most literate rock bands, those two groups both using two drummers.

Ward White at Bowery Electric, April 19 – the literate rock tunesmith was under the weather but still delivered a soaring, understatedly snarling cd release show for his latest one, Done with the Talking Cure , backed by keyboard maven Joe McGinty and a killer band.

Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans tribute at the Jazz Standard, April 22 – the composer/arranger is a major Evans scholar, and assembled an A-list big band to recreate the legendary 1961 Out of the Cool album plus a couple of surprises.

Dark & Stormy at the Tank, April 28 – the duo of Adrian Morejon and Rebekah Heller played pretty much the entire known repertoire for two bassoons, as lively and entertaining as it was sonically luscious.

Barbez at the Austrian Cultural Center, May 12 – playing mostly material from their most recent album Force of Light, a Paul Celan homage, they mixed brooding, klezmer-fueled instrumentals with spoken-word passages featuring work by the late Holocaust poet.

The JD Allen Trio at le Poisson Rouge, May 18 – the tenor saxophonist and his longtime collaborators, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, hit dark and forcefully again and again, airing out three-minute “jukebox jazz” songs from their darkly triumphant new album, VICTORY!

Those Darlins and Black Joe Lewis at Madison Square Park, June 12 – swirling jangly psychedelia with a little country from the 3/4 female rockers, followed by a marathon performance by the charismatic punk/funk guitarslinger and his purist, bluesy band.

Brooklyn Rider at Pace University, July 12 – a characteristically eclectic set by one of the world’s most adventurous string quartets, with works by Philip Glass and Kojiro Umezaki along with a bluegrass romp by Colin Jacobsen and several scorching gypsy tunes.

Pierre de Gaillande at Barbes, July 14 – the Snow’s frontman played a bunch of brand-new English translations of classic,smutty, wickedly literate Georges Brassens songs.

The Universal Thump at Barbes, July 16 – keyboardist Greta Gertler’s lush art-rock band brought along a string quartet for this exhilarating, majestic show featuring new songs from their brand-new First Spout album.

The New York Arabic Orchestra at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, August 5 – a rich mix of Egyptian and Lebanese classics as well as intriguing, cinematic works by bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Bassam Saba

Rachelle Garniez, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and Thomas Simon at Small Beast at the Delancey, August 15 – the weekly dark rock event, which has been running on fumes lately, had a rare good night since charismatic chanteuse Beren – who booked the bands this time around – brought along both the equally charismatic and even more inscrutable Garniez as well as swirling soundtrack crafter Simon.

The Chiara String Quartet at Trinity Church, September 8 – the ensemble revisited Robert Sirota’s anguished, chilling 9/11-themed Triptych where they’d premiered it less than a year later after the attacks. Seconds after they finished, sirens echoed outside just a couple of blocks away: eerie coincidence!

And the Wiremen and the Reid Paley Trio at Small Beast at the Delancey, September 19 – this time out Lynn Wright of southwestern gothic mavens And the Wiremen booked the night, bringing along charismatic retro rocker Paley, who was not amused by the chatty bar crowd and delivered what might have been the most deliciously assaultive show of the year

Chicha Libre at Barbes, October 3 – the surfy, psychedelic cumbia band plays pretty much every Monday here on their home turf – this time they went deep, deep into dub with a swirling, deliriously fun mix of classics and a lot of new original material.

Amour Obscur and Copal at R Bar, October 5 – blazing gypsy punk and noir cabaret, followed by gorgeously slinky violin-and-cello dance grooves from Hannah Thiem, Isabel Castellvi and their hypnotic rhythm section.

Drina Seay at Lakeside, October 7 – she came out of nowhere – a year ago she was singing backup vocals with a bunch of country bands – to lead one of New York’s most versatile, smartest Americana groups. Watching her soaring through a mix of torchy, intense ballads and more upbeat songs reminded a lot of seeing Neko Case right before she got popular.

The American Composers Orchestra at the World Financial Center, October 22 – closing night of this year’s SONIC Festival featured intense, majestic new works by Paul Yeon Lee, Ruby Fulton, Ryan Gallagher, Suzanne FarrinAndrew Norman, and an unexpectedly thoughtful, pensive one by the National’s Bryce Dessner.

Walter Ego at Otto’s, November 19 – switching from guitar to piano and back again, the literate rock tunesmith was at the top of his wryly amusing game.

Don Piper and Edward Rogers vs. the Sound

The Cutting Room’s new Curry Hill space isn’t officially open yet, which is a good thing: at this point in the renovations, the sonics at that unfinished industrial basement at Kent and South First in Williamsburg are better than they are here. Last night Don Piper and his band, and then Edward Rogers (playing the cd release for his new one, Porcelain) battled those sonics. Both played magnificently; both lost the battle. Piper has never written better than he’s writing now, equal parts smart Neil Finn purist pop, thoughtful Mumford & Sons Americana and blue-eyed soul. His superb seven-piece band included Gary Langol on organ, Ray Sapirstein on cornet, Konrad Meissner on drums and Briana Winter on vocal harmonies. After the show, Sapirstein likened this group to a chamber music ensemble, a spot-on comparison: they have the easy camaraderie and expert chops you’d expect from a string quartet. And Piper’s slow-to-midtempo songs leave plenty of space for those virtuoso players to add their own inimitably terse, thoughtful ideas. In just under an hour onstage, they swung casually and methodically from artsy pop songs, to a little further out into the country and back again, with a couple of Bill Withers-ish numbers to turn the heat up a little. Piper’s an excellent singer, especially when he uses the top of his range: too frequently, those frequencies got lost.

‘”We start out at about 1972 and end around 1976,” Rogers told the crowd as he took the stage with his band: Piper, Pete Kennedy and James Mastro on guitars, Joe McGinty on keys, Sal Maida on bass and Meissner on drums again plus a parade of singers. The new album pays homage to the glam era, especially the opening track, The Biba Crowd, a look back at a boutique that served as a focal point for British musicians of that era much as Malcolm McLaren’s Sex did in punk’s earliest days. The band gave it a Celtic-fueled stomp, Mastro’s blazing Mick Ronson-esque lines mostly lost to the sound mix. At the end of a careening, intense version of the apocalyptic Topping the World, Rogers backed off, intoning the song’s mantra, “Chaos rules your destiny” just a couple of times before letting the music fall away. Whether this was intentional, or only an indication that Rogers was sick of trying to holler over the band, the effect was powerful. They wrestled with a handful of big Bowie-esque rockers, as well as the plaintive drunkard’s lament No More Tears Left in the Bottle and then a real showstopper, Commodore Hotel, a poignant, unselfconsciously beautiful ballad sung by its author, George Usher over McGinty’s ornate yet judicious keyboards.

Passing the Sunshine, a catchy 60s psychedelic pop gem from Rogers’ previous album Sparkle Lane, was especially biting, a metaphorically-charged amble through a neighborhood in the process of being priced out of itself. When Rogers brought up Don Fleming to play lead guitar on Separate Walls, it was as if the ghost of Ron Asheton had taken over the stage – to say that Fleming raised the energy level was an understatement, but there was only so much he could do to cut through the mix. After a deliciously raw version of the album’s title track, a song that would have fit perfectly on a late 80s Church album, they ended the show with drony, Syd Barrett-influenced, Black Angels-style murk-rock, which might have been a brave move at another venue; here, it simply seemed that they’d finally found something that made sense in the room. McGinty worked a harmonium furiously as the guitars howled and shrieked and Rogers railed against posers in newly gentrified neighborhoods everywhere.

Morricone Youth, who are always a treat, were next on the bill. But as it turned out, there was one single bathroom serving at least a few hundred people, a prospect discouraging enough to make it an early night.

Edward Rogers’ Porcelain Hits Hard and Pure

Edward Rogers has made a name for himself as someone who can write expertly in any retro rock style he wants, whether solo or with the artsy, jangly Bedsit Poets. The Birmingham, UK expat’s new album Porcelain is his hardest-rocking effort so far, and not only is it his best, it’s also one of best straight-up rock records of the last couple of years. Maybe it’s because he’s been so closely involved with the Losers Lounge scene, or maybe it’s just because he writes such good songs, but either way he always has an A-list band behind him. This time around the rhythm section features members of Cracker, Nada Surf or Graham Parker’s band, alongside Ian Hunter’s guitarist and a whole slew of other NYC talent. Rogers’ vocals are typically understated: he’ll snarl but he doesn’t usually scream. Rogers looks back fondly, sometimes bitterly; he looks to the future with extreme apprehension. The songs here range from blistering rockers to delicate chamber-pop laments.

The title track takes garage rock snarl, subdues it a little and turns it into insistent, propulsive new wave in the same vein as the Church, at least in that band’s early years, leaving its troubled intensity just below the surface to leap up when least expected. Likewise, the best track on the album, Topping the World, has the same fast 2/4 beat, a forest of burning, psychedelic guitar layers, and lyrics that capture a moment when the banks have repossessed everything, the temperature keeps climbing but still nobody questions the magic of the marketplace. “Chaos rules your destiny,” Rogers reminds over and over as it winds out.

Nothing Too Clever is gentle chamber-pop – it’s Kooks by David Bowie updated for the teens, with a stunning Claudia Chopek orchestral arrangement featuring Tim Dutemple’s oboe and Eleanor Norton on cello. Love with the World, a sarcastic eco-catastrope anthem, goes even more deeply into Thin White Duke territory, with some brightly wry Mick Ronson-esque slide guitar from James Mastro.

The opening track, a reminiscence about a hellraising bar crowd, is Irish-flavored glamrock that wouldn’t be out of place in the Black 47 reel book. Diamond Amour also has an Irish rock vibe and a ridiculously catchy, singalong chorus straight out of the Willie Nile catalog. “The world is changing from grey to black-and-white,” Rogers intones on the pensive ballad Link to the Chain – it’s the personal as political taken to its vividly logical extreme. Separate Walls is like Oasis with a Ph. D., a pummeling rocker with some memorable dueling between Don Fleming’s machete guitar and Chopek’s stiletto violin. Silent Singer also potently features those two contrasting savage/incisive attacks. The album closes with a hallucinatory, nightmarish psychedelic tone poem of sorts, Fleming’s axe-murderer guitar cutting its way through a hellish Lower East Side milieu that bears little resemblance to the once edgy, working-class neighborhood that Rogers has called home for years. “Take the train to Fancyland/My magazine well in hand,” he sneers at the fulltime tourists who’ve transformed his old stomping ground from a fertile incubator for bands into a Bernie Madoff style Florida shopping mall. Other bands – notably the Brooklyn What – have chronicled the destruction of New York by gentrification over the past ten years, few as memorably as Rogers. For people who like a good tune, this album’s a lot of fun – for New Yorkers, it’s also an important piece of history. The album officially releases next month; watch this space for news of the release show, most likely at Bowery Electric.